Tax assistance helps poor children

Can those who volunteer for free tax assistance programs help lift children out of poverty? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the answer to that question is yes. For volunteers dedicated to strengthening our community, a recent CBPP-recommended priority for policy makers details research demonstrating the benefits the earned income tax credit (EITC) and child tax credit (CTC) have on the education, health and future earnings of our community’s youngest children.

In an August 2016 article, the CBPB cites 24 sources where Chuck Marr, Chloe Cho and Arloc Sherman’s research indicates “the positive effects of EITC and CTC income support in both the short term and the long term are clearest for the poorest and youngest children.” In some ways, the relative impact grows based on the age of the child. Poverty is exacerbated for families who have young children. This is due in part to the cost of full-day child care that can limit a parent’s ability to work full time.

For community members working with young children in the field of education or healthcare, an understanding of “toxic stress” and the impacts upon the developing brain of very young children is driving a focus on early childhood development. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child released a study in May of this year that suggests we should use science to approach how we build positive futures for young children and their families. This research provides compelling evidence that by helping families with young children access EITC and CTC, our community can promote later economic mobility. There is a reduction in “toxic stress” when we alleviate some of the pressures of poverty from the family and the impacts dramatically increases the younger the child is when the family receives support.

Perhaps what is most exciting for United Way staff who lead free tax assistance programs is the knowledge that volunteers serving in free tax programs who help families secure available earned income and child tax credits could be responsible for lasting differences in the health, education and employment of children living in the families served by our program. The CBPP policy recommendation was based on findings that showed:

In "The Long Reach of Early Childhood Poverty," Distinguished Professor Greg Duncan and Associate Professor Katherine Magnuson were able to prove that an annual $3,000 increase in family income that occurred during preschool years resulted in about two months of extra schooling for poor children. Additionally, the annual boost in income is associated with a 17 percent increase in adult earnings. 

A policy brief conducted by the Center for Poverty Research linked improvements in birth weight (an important factor for future health) to the 1990 expansion of the earned income tax credit.

Carlee Hoffmann, United Way’s director of community engagement, is grateful for the dedication of local volunteers who chose to help low-income families and their children. She is proud of change created by the 59 volunteers who helped complete 3,800 free tax returns, which resulted in an impact of $5.9 million on our community. VITA volunteers not only prepared tax returns free of charge, but often provided financial counseling for clients who may be paying more than their fair share. Hoffmann said, “With $3,000 as the level where this dramatic change can occur for local families, United Way’s free tax assistance programs offer volunteers the ability to have long-term impacts in the lives of children, families and our community. Last year, the average refund for families earning $25,000 or less was $1,495. Volunteers helped local families get half way to the $3,000 threshold.”

Hoffmann is proud of local volunteers who dedicate time to serve low-income families and said the benefit to the volunteer is more than just knowing you are making a difference. Volunteers who are tax professionals can receive continuing education (CE) credits for their service. All volunteers receive certification through the IRS, and training is provided free of charge by United Way. For volunteers interested in serving our community through United Way’s free tax programs, orientations will be at 1301 W. Government St. Those interested can email Angela Knight, financial stability outreach manager, at angela@unitedwayescambia.org to sign up for one of the informational sessions scheduled from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday or from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 16. Interested volunteers can also call 434-3157 for more information.